Level crossings need better coordination
The threat of unsafe level crossings has once again come to the fore after a recent train-bus collision at a crossing right at the heart of Dhaka, which thankfully caused no fatalities but temporarily suspended rail communications between the capital and the rest of the country. The fact is, most crossings in Bangladesh are still unprotected, and therefore remain highly susceptible to accidents, even after repeated warnings, deadly collisions as well as assurances of preventive action. A recent survey jointly conducted by Bangladesh Railway (BR) and the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) also highlighted the danger, and made recommendations that deserve proper attention.
Bangladesh has approximately 3,111 level crossings. Of them, 1,886 are authorised, even though a large number of them remain unmanned. In addition, there are 1,225 crossings that are both unauthorised and unmanned. Thus, the survey has underscored the urgency of improving their safety through various measures. For example, it recommended building overpasses or underpasses at 47 crossings, and installing an automated system at 194 unmanned crossings so that a warning bell goes off when a train approaches. Other recommendations include setting up gate barriers, putting in place electricity and telephone lines and other basic facilities at 1,436 more crossings. The survey also suggested shutting down 62 closely located crossings. Moreover, given the acute shortage of staff to operate the crossings, it suggested recruiting 5,772 people.
It should be noted that in the first two months of this year, at least 37 people were killed in 36 rail-related accidents, according to the Road Safety Foundation. Last year, at least 326 people were killed and 113 were injured in 354 such accidents, most of which took place at level crossings. All this calls for drastic reforms, and those changes/reforms suggested by the survey can indeed help reduce crossing-related accidents. However, as we know from past experience, addressing lack of infrastructure or staff alone will not be enough. We also need to address the lack of coordination among the agencies involved with crossings, especially the unauthorised ones.
Reportedly, at least nine government bodies were involved in building the unauthorised level crossings, with the LGED having constructed the highest 516. It is a common tendency for the BR and those agencies to trade blame or to try to avert responsibility after every collision. In the absence of systemic coordination among them, unprotected crossings continue to throw up dead bodies every now and then. It is, therefore, vital that there is a central administrative wing in charge of all level crossings, authorised or not. It should supervise all decisions related to them and ensure proper follow-up. A central command would be ideally placed to fast-track such activities and ensure collaboration.
We, therefore, urge the higher authorities to undertake these reforms with the highest priority. Given the current risk, there is no time to dilly-dally in this regard.